Thousands of defendants exonerated
Courts say insufficient evidence has led to many convictions being tossed
A total of 5,232 defendants have been exonerated because of insufficient evidence since 2014, giving a glimpse of efforts made by Chinese courts to protect human rights through the rule of law, said a report from the top court.
The report from the Supreme People's Court was submitted on Oct 23 to the bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, for review.
Courts nationwide concluded 6.28 million criminal cases and sentenced 7.1 million defendants between 2014 and June this year, the report said, adding judges always highlighted the importance of human rights protections and corrected wrongful rulings in a timely manner.
During this period, there were 42 high-profile wrongful convictions involving 63 defendants, including Chen Man and Nie Shubin. All of those defendants were given State compensation, the report said.
In February 2016, Chen, who spent nearly 23 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of arson and intentional homicide, was declared not guilty due to insufficient evidence.
Ten months later, the SPC's second circuit in Shenyang, Liaoning province, proclaimed Nie not guilty, about 21 years after he was wrongfully executed for raping and killing a woman in Hebei province.
Chinese courts at each level changed the original rulings of 8,051 criminal cases after retrials.
In explaining the report to legislators, Zhou Qiang, the top court's president, said they were "learning a lesson from the wrongful convictions and making the significance of evidence a priority."
As they have strengthened efforts to correct wrongful rulings, courts across the country have also fully safeguarded defendants' legitimate rights in litigation, such as barring them from wearing detention uniforms during trials, Zhou said.
"But problems in dealing with criminal cases still remain," he said, pointing out that some courts have flaws in evidence identification, application of law and following legal procedures.
"Such misconduct may influence judgments and may even lead to wrongful convictions," he said, ordering judges to improve the quality of case hearings to uphold justice.
All courts must exclude evidence obtained illegally or improperly, such as through torture during interrogations, according to him.
The top judge also ordered that the legitimate rights of defense lawyers and legal aides be further ensured and increased.
Zhou said the death penalty should be retained, "but such capital punishment must be ...more carefully applied".
Death sentences can be only given for extremely serious offenses, he added.
In July, for instance, Zhang Koukou, who killed three neighbors in revenge for his mother's death, was executed by a court in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, after the top court approved his death sentence.
The report said Chinese courts have also paid attention to crimes that harmed national safety and negatively affected the public's sense of security since 2014, solving 219,000 seriously violent cases involving such crimes as intentional homicide, robbery, kidnap and arson.